A relic is an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial. Relics are an important aspect of some forms of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Shamanism, and many other religions.
At Athens the supposed remains of Oedipus and Theseus enjoyed an honor that is very difficult to distinguish from a religious cult, while Plutarch gives accounts of the translation of the bodies of Demetrius (Demetrius iii) and Phocion (Phocion xxxvii) which in many details anticipate Christian practice. The bones or ashes of Aesculapius at Epidaurus, and of Perdiccas I at Macedon were treated with the deepest veneration, as were those of the Persian Zoroaster, according to the Chronicon Paschale (Dindorf, p. 67). However; there is no tradition in Zoroastrianism or its scriptures to support this postulation.
In Buddhism, relics of the Buddha and various sages are venerated. After the Buddha's death, his remains were divided into eight portions. Afterward, these relics were enshrined in stupas wherever Buddhism was spread, despite his instructions that relics were not to be collected or venerated.
Some relics believed to be original relics of Buddha still survive including the much revered Sacred Relic of the tooth of the Buddha in Sri Lanka.
A stupa is a building created specifically for the relics. Many Buddhist temples have stupas and historically, the placement of relics in a stupa often became the initial structure around which the whole temple would be based. Today, many stupas also hold the ashes or ringsel of prominent/respected Buddhists who were cremated. In rare cases the whole body is conserved, for example in the case of Dudjom Rinpoche, after his death his physical body was moved a year later from France and placed in a stupa in one of his main monasteries near Boudhanath, Nepal in 1988. Pilgrims may view his body through a glass window in the stupa.
The Buddha's relics are considered to show people that enlightenment is possible, to remind them that the Buddha was a real person, and to also promote good virtue.
One of the earliest sources that purports to show the efficacy of relics is found in 2 Kings 13:20-21:
20 Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. 21 Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. (NIV)
These verses are cited to claim that the Holy Spirit's indwelling also affects the physical body, that God can do miracles through the bodies of His servants, or both. Also cited is the veneration of Polycarp's relics recorded in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written 150–160 AD). With regard to relics that are objects, an often cited passage is Acts 19:11–12, which says that Paul's handkerchiefs were imbued by God with healing power.
Many tales of miracles and other marvels were attributed to relics beginning in the early centuries of the church; many of these became especially popular during the Middle Ages. These tales are collected in books of hagiography such as the Golden Legend or the works of Caesar of Heisterbach. These miracle tales made relics much sought after during the Middle Ages.
There are also many relics attributed to Jesus, perhaps most famously the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Pieces of the True Cross were one of the most highly sought after such relics; many churches claimed to possess a piece of it, so many that John Calvin famously remarked that there were enough pieces of the True Cross to build a ship from, although a study in 1870 found that put together the claimed relics weighed less than 1.7 kg (0.04m³).
In his introduction to Gregory of Tours, Ernest Brehaut analyzed the Romano-Christian concepts that gave relics such a powerful draw (see link). He distinguished Gregory's constant usage of "sanctus" and "virtus", the first with its familiar meaning of "sacred" or "holy", and the second
"… the mystic potency emanating from the person or thing that is sacred. These words have in themselves no ethical meaning and no humane implications whatever. They are the keywords of a religious technique and their content is wholly supernatural. In a practical way the second word [virtus] is the more important. It describes the uncanny, mysterious power emanating from the supernatural and affecting the natural. The manifestation of this power may be thought of as a contact between the natural and the supernatural in which the former, being an inferior reality, of course yielded. These points of contact and yielding are the miracles we continually hear of. The quality of sacredness and the mystic potency belong to spirits, in varying degrees to the faithful, and to inanimate objects. They are possessed by spirits, acquired by the faithful, and transmitted to objects." 
Opposed to this holy "virtue" was also a "false" mystic potency that emanated from inhabiting daemons who were conceived of as alien and hostile. Truly holy virtus would defeat it, but it could affect natural phenomena and effect its own kinds of miracles, deceitful and malignant ones. This "virtue" Gregory of Tours and other Christian writers associated with the devil, demons, soothsayers, magicians, pagans and pagan gods, and heretics. False virtus inhabited images of the pagan gods, the "idols" of our museums and archaeology, and destroying it accounts for some of the righteous rage with which mobs of Christians toppled sculptures, and smashed classical bas-reliefs (particularly the faces), as our museums attest.
The transmissibility of this potency, this virtus, is still reflected in the Roman Catholic classifications of relics in degrees, as mentioned above. By transmission, the "virtus" might be transmitted to the city. When St Martin died, November 8, 397, at a village halfway between Tours and Poitiers, the inhabitants of these cities were well ready to fight for his body, which the people of Tours managed to secure by stealth. The story of the purloining of St. Nicholas of Myra is another example. The Image of Edessa was reputed to render that city impregnable.
Saint Jerome declared, "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are" (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).
§1190 §1 - "It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics."
§1190 §2 - "Relics of great significance and other relics honored with great reverence by the people cannot be alienated validly in any manner or transferred permanently without the permission of the Apostolic See."
The veneration of relics continues to be of importance in the Eastern Orthodox Church. As a natural outgrowth of the concept in Orthodox theology of theosis, the physical bodies of the saints are considered to be transformed by divine grace--indeed, all Orthodox Christians are considered to be sanctified by living the mysical life of the Church, and especially by receiving the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments). In the Orthodox service books, the remains of the departed faithful are referred to as "relics", and are treated with honour and respect. For this reason, the bodies of Orthodox Christians are not traditionally embalmed.
The veneration of the relics of the saints is of great importance in Orthodoxy, and very often churches will display the relics of saints prominently. In a number of monasteries, particularly those on the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos in Greece), all of the relics the monastery possesses are displayed and venerated each evening at Compline. As with the veneration of icons, the veneration (Greek; δουλια, dulia) of relics in the Orthodox Church is clearly distinguished from adoration (λατρεια, latria) ; i.e., that worship which is due to God alone). Thus Orthodox teaching warns the faithful against idolatry and at the same time remains true to scriptural teaching (vis. 2 Kings 13:20-21) as understood by Orthodox Sacred Tradition.
The examination of the relics is an important step in the glorification (canonization) of new saints. Sometimes, one of the signs of sanctification is the condition of the relics of the saint. Some saints will be incorrupt, meaning that their remains do not decay under conditions when they normally would (natural mummification is not the same as incorruption). Sometimes even when the flesh does decay the bones themselves will manifest signs of sanctity. They may be honey colored or give off a sweet aroma. Some relics will exude myrrh. The absence of such manifestations is not necessarily a sign that the person is not a Saint.
Relics play a major role in the consecration of a church. The consecrating bishop will place the relics on a diskos (paten) in a church near the church that is to be consecrated, they will then be taken in a cross procession to the new church, carried three times around the new structure and then placed in the Holy Table (altar) as part of the consecration service.
The relics of saints (traditionally, always those of a martyr) are also sewn into the antimension which is given to a priest by his bishop as a means of bestowing faculties upon him (i.e., granting him permission to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries). The antimens is kept on the High Place of the Holy Table (altar), and it is forbidden to celebrate the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist) without it.
While Orthodoxy does not make use of the strict classification system of the Roman Catholic Chruch, it too recognizes and venerates relics which may pertain to Jesus Christ or a saint, such as a relic of the True Cross, the Chains of Saint Peter (feast day, 16 January), the grapevine cross of Saint Nino of Georgia, etc. Places can also be considered holy. When one makes a pilgrimage to a shrine he may bring back something from the place, such as soil from the Holy Land or from the grave of a saint.
Since the beginning of Christianity, individuals have seen relics as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God. Since Christians during the Middle Ages often took pilgrimages to shrines of holy people, relics became a large business. The pilgrims saw the purchasing of a relic as a means to bring the shrine back with him or her upon returning home in a small way, since during the Middle Ages the concept of physical proximity to the “holy” (tombs of saints or their personal objects) was considered extremely important. Instead of having to travel hundreds of miles to become near to a venerated saint, one could venerate the relics of the saint within his or her own home.
While various relics are preserved by different Muslim communities, the most important are those known as The Sacred Trusts, more than 600 pieces treasured in the Privy Chamber of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul.
Muslims believe that these treasures include the sword and standard of Muhammad, a hair from his beard, and the staff of Moses. Most of the trusts can be seen in the museum, but the most important of them can only be seen during the month of Ramadan. The Quran has been recited next to these relics uninterruptedly since they were brought to the Topkapi Palace.
A cloak (kherqa) believed to have belonged to the prophet Mohammed is kept in the central mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan. According to local history, it was given to Ahmad Shah by Mured Beg, the Emir of Bokhara. The Sacred Cloak is kept locked away, taken out only at times of great crisis. In 1996 Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban took it out displayed it to a crowd of ulema (religious scholars), and was declared Amir-ud Momineen, "Commander of the Faithful." Prior to this, the last time it had been removed had been when the city was struck by a cholera epidemic in the 1930s."
Relic is also the term for something that has survived the passage of time, especially an object or custom whose original culture has disappeared, but also an object cherished for historical or memorial value (such as a keepsake or heirloom).
 World tour of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux
RELICS (Lat, reliquiae, the equivalent of the English "remains" in the sense of a dead body), the name given in the Catholic Church to,(I) the bodies of the saints, or portions of them,(2) such objects as the saints made use of during their lives, or as were used at their martyrdom. These objects are held by the Church in religious veneration, and by their means it hopes to obtain divine grace and miraculous benefits (Conc. Trid. sess. 24).
These ideas had taken shape, in all essentials, during the early days of the Church, underwent further development in the middle ages, and were maintained by the Catholic Church in the face of the opposition of the Reformers, while all the Protestant Churches rejected them.
The origins of the veneration of relics lie in the anxiety for the preservation of the bodies of the martyrs. Nothing is more natural than that the pious solicitude felt by all men for the bodies of their loved ones should in the primitive Christian Churches have been turned most strongly towards the bodies of those who had met with death in confessing their faith. The account given by the church at Smyrna of the death of their bishop Polycarp (155) gives us an insight into these feelings. The church collected and buried the remains of the martyr, who had been burnt, in order duly to celebrate the anniversary of the martyrdom at the place of burial. The possession of the relics seemed to assure the continuation of the common life of the church with their bishop, of the living with the dead (Mart. Polyc. C. 17).
The custom of which we have here for the first time an account had become universal by the 3rd century. In all parts the Christians assembled on the anniversary of the martyrs' death at their graves, to celebrate the Agape and the Eucharist at this spot. It was a favourite custom to bury the dead near the graves of the martyrs; and it was the highest wish of many to "rest with the saints." It was the body lying in the tomb which was venerated (see Euseb. Hist. eccl. vii. 1 1, 24; viii. 6, 7).
But these customs soon underwent a further development. About the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century it became customary for the bodies of the martyrs not to be buried, but preserved for the purpose of veneration. Already individual Christians began to possess themselves of portions of the bodies of martyrs, and to carry them about with them. Both these practices met with criticism and opposition, especially from the leading men of the Church. According to the testimony of Athanasius of Alexandria, the hermit Anthony decided that it should be held to be unlawful and impious to leave the bodies of the martyrs unburied (Vita Ant. 90).
In Carthage the archdeacon and later the bishop Caecilianus severely blamed a certain Lucilla for carrying about with her a relic which she used to kiss before receiving the Eucharist (Optatus, De schism. Donat. i. 16). The compiler of the Acta S. Fructuosi, a Spanish ecclesiastic, represents the martyred bishop as himself requesting the burial of his relics. But energetic as the opposition was, it was unsuccessful, and died out. For in the meantime opinion as to the efficacy of relics had undergone a transformation, parallel with the growth of the theory, which soon predominated in the Church, that material instruments are the vehicles of divine grace. When the Christians of Smyrna decided that the bones of the martyrs were of more worth than gold or gems, and when Origen (Exh. ad mart. 50) spoke of the precious blood of the martyrs, they were thinking of the act of faith which the martyrs had accomplished by the sacrifice of their life.
Now, on the other hand, the relic came to be looked upon as in itself a thing of value as the channel of miraculous divine powers. These ideas are set forth by Cyril of Jerusalem. He taught that a certain power dwelt in the body of the saint, even when the soul had departed from it; just as it was the instrument of the soul during life, so the power passed permanently into it (Cat. xviii. 16). This was coming very near to a belief that objects which the saints had used during their life had also a share in their miraculous powers. And this conclusion Cyril had already come to (loc. cit.). We can see how early this estimate of relics became general from the fact that the former hesitation as to whether they should be venerated as sacred died out during the 4th century.
The Fathers of the Greek Church especially were united in recommending the veneration of relics. All the great theologians of the 4th and 5th centuries may be quoted as evidence of this: Eusebius of Caesarea (Praep. Ev. xiii.i I), Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. in Cypr. 17), Gregory of Nyssa (Orat. de S. Theod. mart.), Basil of Caesarea (Ep. ii. 197), Chrysostom (Laud. Drosidis), Theodoret of Cyrus (Ines. 67, 11), &c. John of Damascus, the great exponent of dogma in the 8th century, gave expression to the result of a uniform development which had been going on for centuries when he taught that Christ offers the relics to Christians as means of salvation. They must not be looked upon as something that is dead; for through them all good things come to those who pray with faith. Why should it seem impossible to believe in this power of the relics, when water could be made to gush from a rock in the desert? (De fide orthod. iv. 15).
Such was the theory; and the practice was in harmony with it. Throughout the whole of the Eastern Church the veneration of relics prevailed. Nobody hesitated to divide up the bodies of the saints in order to afford as many portions of them as possible. They were shared among the inhabitants of cities and villages, Theodoret tells us, and cherished by everybody as healers and physicians for both body and soul (Decur. Graec. af%. 8).
The transition from the true relic to the hallowed object was especially common. Jerusalem, as early as the time of Eusebius, rejoiced in the possession of the episcopal chair of James the Just (Hist. eccl. vii. 19); and as late as the 4th century was discovered the most important of the relics of Christ, the cross which was alleged to have been His. Cyril of Jerusalem already remarks that the whole world was filled with portions of the wood of the cross (Cat. iv. 10).
The development which the veneration of relics underwent in the West did not differ essentially from that in the East. Here also the idea came to prevail that the body of the saint, or a portion of it,'was possessed of healing and protective power (Paulinus of Nola, Poem. xix. 14 et seq., xxvii. 443). The objection raised by the Aquitanian presbyter Vigilantius (c. 400) to the belief that the souls of the martyrs to a certain extent clung to their ashes, and heard the prayers of those who approached them, appeared to his contemporaries to be frivolous;. and he nowhere met with any support.
The only doubt which was felt was as to whether the bodies of the saints should be divided, and removed from their original resting-place. Both practices were forbidden by law under the emperor Theodosius I. (Cod. Theodos. ix. 17, 7), and the division of the bodies of martyrs into pieces was prohibited for centuries. Even Pope Gregory I., in a letter to the empress Constantia, disapproved it (Ep. iv. 30). Ambrose of Milan, by the discovery of the relics of Protasius and Gervasius (cf. Ep. 22 and Augustine, Confess. ix. 7), started in the West the long series of discoveries and translations of hitherto unknown relics.
His example was followed, to name only the best known instances, by Bishop Theodore of Octodurum (now Martigny in the Vaud), who discovered the relics of the Theban legion which was alleged to have been destroyed by the emperor Maximian on account of its belief in the Christian faith (see Passio Acaun. Mart. 16), and by Clematius, a citizen of Cologne, to whom the virgin martyrs of this city revealed themselves (Kraus, Inschriften der Rheinlande, No. 294), afterwards to be known as St Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins.
The West was much poorer in relics than the East. Rome, it is true, possessed in the bodies of Peter and Paul a treasure the virtue of which outshone all the sacred treasures of the East. But many other places were entirely wanting in relics. By the discoveries which we have mentioned their number was notably increased. But the longing for these pledges of the divine assistance was insatiable. In order to satisfy it relics were made by placing pieces of cloth on the gravesof the saints, which were afterwards taken to their homes and venerated by the pilgrims.
The same purpose was served by oil taken from the lamps burning at the graves, flowers from the altars, water from some holy well, pieces of the garments of saints, earth from Jerusalem, and especially keys which had been laid on the grave of St Peter at Rome. All these things were not looked upon as mementoes, but the conviction prevailed that they were informed by a miraculous power, which had passed into them through contact with that which was originally sacred (cf. Greg. Tur. De Glor. mart. i. 25; Greg. I. Ep. iv. 29, No. 30). A dishonest means of satisfying the craving for relics was that of forging them, and how common this became can be gathered from the many complaints about spurious relics (Sulp. Sev. Vita Mart. 8; Aug. De op. mon. 28; Greg. I. Ep. iv. 30, &c.).
But in the long run these substitutes for relics did not satisfy the Christians of the West, and, following the example of the Eastern Church, they took to dividing the bodies of the saints. Medieval relics in the West also were mostly portions of the bodies of saints or of things which they had used during their lives.
The veneration of relics also received a strong impulse from the fact that the Church required that a relic should be deposited in every altar. Among the first of those whom we know to have attached importance to the placing of relics in churches is Ambrose of Milan (Ep. 22), and the 7th general council of Nicaea (787) forbade the consecration of churches in which relics were not present, under pain of ex communication. This has remained part of the law of theRoman Catholic Church.
The most famous relics discovered during the middle ages, were those of the apostle James at St Jago de Compostella in Spain (see Pilgrimage), the bodies of the three kings, which were brought from Milan to Cologne in 1164 by the emperor Frederick I. (Chron. reg. Colon. for the year 1164), the socalled sudarium of St Veronica, which from the 12th century onwards was preserved in the Capella Santa Maria ad praesepe of St Peter's in Rome (see Dobschiitz, Christusbilder, p. 218 seq.), and the seamless robe of Christ, the possession of which lent renown to the cathedral of Trier since the beginning of the 12th century (Gesta Trevir., Mon. Germ. Scr. viii. p. 152).
The number of relics increased to a fabulous extent during the middle ages. There were churches which possessed hundreds, even thousands, of relics. In the cathedral of Eichsta,tt were to be found, as early as 1071, 683 relics (Gundech, Lib. pont. Eist., Mon. Germ. Scr. vii. p. 246 seq.); the monastery of Hirschau had 222 in the year 1091 (De cons. mai. mon., Mon. Germ. Scr. xiv. p. 261); the monastery of Stedernburg 515 in the year 1166 (Ann. Sted. Scr. xvi. p. 212 seq.). But these figures are trifling compared with those at the end of the middle ages.
In the year 1520 could be counted 19,013 in the Schlosskirche at Wittenberg, and 21,483 in the Schlosskirche at Halle in 1521 (Kdstlin, Friedrich der W., and die Schlosskirche zu Wittenberg, p. 58 seq.; Redlich, Cardinal Albrecht and das Neue Stift zu Halle, p. 260). There were also collections on the same scale belonging to individuals; a patrician of Nuremberg named Muffel was able to gain possession of 308 relics (Chroniken der deutschen State, xi. p. 745).
It is curious that while the popular craving for relics had passed all bounds, medieval theology was very cautious in its declarations on the subject of the veneration of relics. Thomas Aquinas based his justification of them on the idea of reverent commemoration; since we venerate the saints, we must also show reverence for their relics, for whoever loves another does honour to that which remains of him after death.
On this account it is our duty, in memory of the saints, to pay due honour to their relics and especially to their bodies, which were the temples and dwellings of the Holy Ghost in which He dwelt and worked, and which in the resurrection are to be made like to the body of Christ; and in likewise because God honours them, in that He works wonders in their presence (Summa theol. iii. qu. 25, art. 6). The great scholastic philosopher abandoned the theory that the relics in themselves are vessels and instruments of the divine grace and miraculous power. But these ideas were revived, on the other hand, by the Catholicism of the counter-Reformation, which again taught and teaches that God grants many benefits to mankind through the sacred bodies of the martyrs (Conc. Trid. sess. xxv.). The doctrine has adapted itself to the popular belief. (A. H.*)
A relic is an object, especially a piece of the body or a personal item of someone of religious importance, that was carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a memorial that you can touch. Relics are an important aspect of Buddhism, some denominations of Christianity, Hinduism, shamanism, and many other personal belief systems.